BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

18 September 2014
Accessibility help
Victorian Britain

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Working Life and the First Modern Census

By Geoff Timmins
Manufacturing takes over

Image of boys working in a cotton mill
Boys working in a cotton mill, 1900 ©
The 1851 figures show that manufacturing work employed nearly 40 per cent of the labour force - a far greater number than in any other group. They made an immensely wide range of products, including: textiles and clothing; metals and metal goods (ie, engineering products); food products; chemicals and glass; and pottery.

The next most important group was service work. This group included: transport workers; domestic servants; professional people - doctors, teachers, lawyers and the like; those in banking and insurance; and those in the wholesale and retail trade. Service workers comprised about 25 per cent of those recorded by the enumerators, a rather higher proportion than those employed in agriculture. That agriculture occupied a relatively small proportion of the labour force reflects the high level of industrialisation that had arisen in Britain by the early Victorian period.

' ... these figures probably exclude a great deal of part-time work ... especially that undertaken by married women.'

The comparison of 1851 figures on occupational groups with those for 1901, shows that notable changes took place. The changes relate to both the total labour force and the way the labour force was distributed between occupational groups. As far as the total labour force is concerned, Table 1, above, shows that a considerable increase occurred, reflecting the rapidity with which Britain's population was growing at the time.

The census figures reveal that the labour force reached 16.4 million by 1901, about 75 per cent above the 1851 figure. Over the same period, the population increased by about 78 per cent, reaching 37 million. However, it is important to recognise that these figures probably exclude a great deal of part-time work that went unrecorded, especially that undertaken by married women.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy